In an inspirational moment that went beyond the game of football, Hunter Bushnell, the Eldon Mustang junior who suffered a serious neck injury just weeks ago, returned to Victor Field prior to the rivalry matchup between the Mustangs and School of the Osage Indians.

In an inspirational moment that went beyond the game of football, Hunter Bushnell, the Eldon Mustang junior who suffered a serious neck injury just weeks ago, returned to Victor Field prior to the rivalry matchup between the Mustangs and School of the Osage Indians.

Bushnell, flanked by parents and relatives, received a standing ovation from a full house of both Indian and Mustang fans as he rode down the track high-fiving his teammates one by one.

Fans, and those on the field, clapped and cried as others ran up for hugs and selfies. Osage students were dressed in green, displaying a sign that read “2 Rivals Brought Together.” 

“Thank you,” he told the crowd. “Thank you.”

And then it was time for football. The Mustangs (7-1), who were coming off a 69-20 win over Versailles, scored first on Friday night and never surrendered the lead to the Osage Indians (4-4), who were dealt their second straight loss after being defeated 56-26 by the Tri-County leader — the undefeated Blair Oaks Falcons — in the week prior.

The Indians received the opening kickoff and senior quarterback Zach Wheeler quickly connected with fellow senior Drake Gaines, the lengthy wideout, for a big gain down the sideline. The Eldon defense bent, but would not break. After Wheeler converted a fourth-and-two from the Eldon 23, the Indians attempted some trickery. 

Wheeler took the shotgun snap and tossed a pitch to a wideout in motion who then tossed the football back to Wheeler on the opposite side of the field. As Eldon defenders closed in Wheeler pump-faked, and ran for a first down, but a fumbled snap would lead to a fourth-and-six in which the Mustangs defense stood tall and knocked away a pass in the end zone intended for Gaines. 

Starting from their own six yard line, the Mustang triple-option offense led by junior quarterback Dawson Brandt, senior running back Isaiah Merida and junior fullback Isaiah Parson, marched down the field into opposing territory until the Indians defense forced a fourth-and-two.

Brandt, who gave the Osage defense fits all night, converted for the Mustangs before Parsons would punch in the first score of the night. The Indians second drive was stymied by the Eldon defense who forced a turnover on downs at the Osage 41. After drawing the Indians offsides, Merida reached the end zone on a short carry to put the Mustangs up 12-0.

Following another Osage punt, the Indians would have a great chance to capitalize on good field position when a fumbled snap was recovered by junior Dalton Depee at the Eldon six yard line. Junior full back Traygen Whittle took the next play up the middle, untouched, for an easy score, but that is as close as the Indians would get.

The ensuing onside kick attempt was successfully recovered by Eldon who immediately scored on the very next play as Brandt broke loose from the Mustang 48-yard-line and scurried the next 52-yards to put the home team up 20 to 7.

Facing a fourth-and-one on their own side of the field, senior running back Nick Riley took a direct snap and shook off a few tackles en route into Eldon territory. The speedy, but powerful tailback took a handoff on the next play and ran for 36 more down to the Mustang 13-yard-line.

Now feeling a bit of a rhythm, the Osage offense went into hurry-up mode and caught the Mustang defense off guard as Wheeler rolled out to his right and connected with Depee for a 13-yard score, cutting the deficit to seven with 1:35 remaining in the second quarter. 

Starting on their own 27-yard-line, the Mustangs wasted little time and found themselves at the Osage 27-yard line just 21 seconds later before Merida would score his second touchdown run of the night and Brandt would convert the first two-point conversion, bumping the lead to 28 to 13.

However, Merida, who also excels at cornerback, picked off the very next play from scrimmage and provided the Mustangs another opportunity to put points on the board with less than a minute left in the half.

What would have been a game-changing play for the Osage defense, an interception returned for a touchdown, was called back on a horsecollar penalty and the Eldon Mustang offense, stocked with three timeouts, had a few long shots at the end zone that the Indians successfully prevented.

The Mustangs continued to wear down the Indians in the second half with carries from Parsons, Merida and Brandt who capped off the first possession of the second half with another touchdown run putting Eldon up 36-13.

Defensively, the Mustangs were done giving up points and held the Indians to a second half shutout, while the offense added two more scores for a 49-13 victory.

Next week, the final week of the regular season, Eldon travels to Hallsville (4-4) who defeated Versailles tonight. The Indians cap off their season on the road against California (1-7) who lost to Blair Oaks this week.